Door Josien Kapma
Hendrix Genetics challenge
The WUR Life Sciences hackathon on the 25 & 26th of October is a 32-hour long event to ignite data- and tech-driven collaborations across boundaries. Students, tech entrepreneurs, researchers, and domain experts work jointly on targeted challenges side by side with representatives of leading Dutch agribusinesses. In this blogpost Hendrix Genetics presents the challenge they invite you to.
Predicting animal performance to breed for the future
Christel Geurts is a true data science fan. She is the spokesperson of the Hendrix Genetics challenge. "It is exciting to be able to work with data straight from real farms. Working with animals is much more tangible than the things data science is often about, such as financial products."
The Hendrix Genetics challenge is about discovering whether laying hens show certain traits under specific conditions. If successful, it will enable a better match between genotypes and production location or type of housing. Controlling the climate inside hen houses, such as temperature, humidity, CO2 and light, is not new. What is new, is that the data on the actual production conditions, which may well be different from the planning, is now available, as climate computers at farms increasingly have data loggers or IoT connections. Adding this data-flow is like closing a feedback-cycle; potentially very important. We are now testing the use of these data for the first time.
Christel: “Surely we will start with exploring the data, then trying a few things by plotting and scaling. We might be able to set up and train a model. Our team could use Python programmers and anyone who likes to puzzle with data.” And you better aim sharply, as Christel will, for in her spare time she shoots arrows as an archery enthusiast.
At Hendrix Genetics the nature of our work means that we are always looking at the next generation. Breeding yields greater cumulative improvements in animal performance than any other activity within the entire production chain. Choices we make in animal breeding today impact the future and are multiplied in the thousands or even millions. We are faced with an enormous challenge to feed an expected 9 billion people by 2050.
The importance of animal breeding
In the past 60 years selective breeding of animals has increased farm productivity by 50% globally. For instance, in laying hens in the 1960’s we could produce 5000 eggs per ton of feed, currently we produce 9500 eggs per ton of feed (adjusted for improvements in feed, technology or farm management). Animal breeding is one of the most important tools in our possession to make farming more sustainable and to improve animal welfare without impacting productivity. Observable characteristics of animals (phenotypes) - such as weight, feed consumption, and number of eggs laid – are the outcome of a complex interaction between the animals’ inherent genetic potential (genotype) and its environment (feed type, temperature, management).
A unique and unusually rich dataset for you to work on
Farming is increasingly becoming digital—evidenced by the proliferation of IoT sensors in barns—which means more data is available on both the phenotypes and the environment than ever before. For this challenge, a unique and unusually rich dataset is compiled to provide insight into this complex interaction.
Goal: predicting animal performance
We want to predict animal performance, which means predicting their phenotype, before they are exposed to an environment (or a disturbance). For instance, when a heat wave occurs, are there laying hen families that have genes for maintaining production and withstanding the heat stress? Or is the relation between egg weight and feed type different for some families? We want you to model how a phenotype (this can be anything you can come up with!) depends on genetics and environment: .
Who are we looking for?
We are looking for aspiring data scientists, biologists, animal scientists and bioinformaticians who like to solve a problem using data collected on real farms and animals. You should be able to handle large and complex datasets and merge data from different sources. You will help us improving animals and animal welfare to make farming more sustainable. Sign up here!
About Hendrix Genetics
Hendrix Genetics is a multi-species animal breeding, genetics and technology company. We look for innovative, sustainable solutions, together with the entire animal protein value chain. We are actively looking to collaborate with innovators who offer new solutions for the animal protein value chain and who want to start a digital revolution in agriculture. www.hendrix-genetics.com
Looking forward to meeting you at the WUR Life Sciences Hack and start our collaboration. Let’s innovate together!